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Monday, July 26, 2010

The Dead and the Living (Matthew 8.18-27)

July 25, 2010
Sermon by: Robert Austell
(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

As you may know, I am preaching the rest of this summer on the “follow me” invitations of Jesus. The one today is, perhaps, the most unusual sounding to our ears. Someone says to Jesus, “Lord, permit me first (before going with you) to go and bury my father.” And in response, Jesus says, “Follow me… and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” So, we’ll get to that passage, but to really understand it, we have to set it in context, so I’ve chosen the full scene into which that exchange falls, starting in verse 18.

Basically, these verses (18-27) show three different responses to the invitation of Jesus and ends with the kind of experience of Jesus that you can only have by saying ‘yes’ to him. We’ll look at all three responses, with the one about burying the dead being the second or middle response. The lead-in to those responses is in verse 18, where Jesus sees a crowd around Him and gives orders to depart to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. 

Response #1: I Will, But Don’t (vv. 19-20)
19 Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” 20 Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

The first responder is a scribe, an expert in the Law. And the scribe says, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” (v. 19) That sounds perfect, right? Jesus says, “Do this,” and someone responds, “I will do whatever you say.” The problem is, the person has not counted the cost. Jesus’ response indicates some of what it will cost to follow him. He replies, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” If you want to follow me, you’ll endure some big challenges. We don’t find out what the scribe chose to do, but the implication is that after such an enthusiastic response, he failed to follow through.

Have you heard the invitation to follow Jesus and enthusiastically said, ‘yes,’ only to find that it was more than you bargained for? Maybe you were part of a retreat, rally, or crusade as a young person, but the Christian life has never amounted to much more than that kind of once-long-ago decision. It’s not a cakewalk; Christians suffer just as much as the next person. In fact, if we are to believe Jesus, it might even be that Christians – that is, radical followers of Jesus – may face more challenges than they might otherwise.

You can’t follow Jesus without counting the cost. 

Response #2: I Can’t, But Might (v. 21-22)
21 Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.”

A second person, this one called a “disciple” responded to Jesus’ command to cross the sea. This one had what sounds to most of us like a very good excuse. “Let me tend to a few private matters and I’ll catch up to you.” Said another way, this response might be, “I can’t right now, but I might one day.”

It was a bit of a shock to realize that this passage fell on the week that Jim Longenecker died. I thought, “How can I preach on the ‘let the dead bury their own dead’ text to people who are potentially right in the midst of burying a loved one?” What made this week even more challenging personally is that I had a trip planned for this whole week, and left town the very day after Jim died. What of the expectations and my own desire to minister to the family? To plan the service? To even be present at the service? As I sat down in the cafeteria of a small community college in West Texas to work on this sermon I realized that in leaving town in the midst of this significant time in the life of Jim’s family, I had done (in earthly terms) the very thing that Jesus was getting at with the man in the text.

You see, I would have dropped and rescheduled just about anything to be here for MaryGene, her family, and the service for Jim, as I would for any of you. What in the world would or could take precedent over something as important as a death in the congregation? In my case, it was the first chance to spend extended one-on-one time with my brother in 20 years. We had been talking about doing this for 10 or 15, and this specific conjunction of his sabbatical and my summer schedule for two years. It was something to which I had and was committed.

And that’s the first part of what Jesus was saying. Priority… there is something even more important spiritually than burying one’s own parents. Does that sound shocking? It should! But that is the weight of following Jesus; it is no simple thing like choosing where to shop or what to do on a Friday night (or Sunday morning). Jesus wants your life!

Part two is in the first part of the phrase, “Let the DEAD bury their own dead.” And this is where there is a huge difference between Jim Longenecker’s family and the one to whom Jesus spoke these words. “The dead” refers to the spiritually dead, to those who would not understand the first-order significance of Jesus’ invitation. While I didn’t leave town to follow Jesus, I did leave for very significant reasons, and the fact that the Longenecker’s family understood that made a world of difference. Likewise, the world may not understand some of what you might give up to follow Jesus, but he is worth everything.

You can’t follow Jesus without making him your first priority. 

Response #3: I Do (v. 23)
23 When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him.

We see a third response simply and briefly in verse 23. When Jesus got into the boat, his disciples followed him. Their response was simply, “I do,” and it was backed up with their actions. Their actions were not unconsidered and these disciples had already made Jesus their first priority, many or all of them having walked away from the only professions they for which they were trained, and some from family and friends as well.

A true disciple is one who not only knows about Jesus, but follows him wherever he leads. This will sound redundant, but I’ll say it anyway: you can’t follow Jesus without following Jesus. 

A Lord Worth Following (vv. 24-27)
24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. 25 And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” 26 He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. 27 The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”

Now this last part is why it is so important to read in context. We have seen three very brief examples of different responses to Jesus and his invitation to “follow me.” We have seen the importance of counting the cost and of making Jesus first priority. And we have seen that at the end of the day, a disciple is one who actually follows.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard or considered these responses with this scene that follows, nor have I heard or considered the calming of the sea story with these three responses. But they are tied together – you see that, right? In verse 18, Jesus tells his disciples they are going to cross the sea, and then in verses 23 and following they do it and that’s when the storm comes.

This makes a difference in how we understand the calming of the storm. It wasn’t just a happenstance storm in which Jesus demonstrated his power. This was a situation that came about because of obedience to Jesus. And what I believe Jesus demonstrated in those terrifying moments was that he had them. I am reminded of the verse that Jim Longenecker claimed as a life verse, Isaiah 41:10…
“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: Be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; Yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”

Said another way, in obedient discipleship, in following Jesus in faith, there need not be fear because if you go where Jesus leads, then he is there with you. And there is no better place to be. Indeed, though the fox and bird have a home and you may not, if you have followed Jesus to get where you are, you are better off than with a soft pillow. If following Jesus has cost you the some of the things the world deems important, but you have made Jesus your first priority, you are blessed. And if you follow Jesus into the storm, there is no better place to be than at the side of the Lord of the wind and the waves.

Following Jesus costs something, but Jesus is a Lord worth following.

Have you counted the cost? Is Jesus more to you than a long-ago prayer or pledge or promise?

Is following Jesus your highest priority? What other things clamor for that priority?

Will you go where he leads? Remember my favorite question of the past year or more? “What is God doing in and around me, and how can I be a part of that?” Have you asked and prayed that question earnestly? Have you acted on it?

Finally, whether you find yourself in still waters, a stormy sea, green pastures, or death’s dark valley, hear this Good News: God is with you in Christ. There is nothing that can separate you from the love of God in Christ. Follow Him, for He is a Lord worth following, and He will never leave you nor forsake you. Amen.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Come to Call Sinners (Luke 5.23-32)

July 18, 2010
Sermon by: Robert Austell
(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today we are continuing in a series looking at all of Jesus’ “follow me” sayings. Last week, we looked at the call of the four fisherman-disciples. Jesus was living in Capernaum by the sea and went down to where they worked and invited them to “follow me.”

Today we look at the call of another disciple, Levi (aka Matthew). He was a tax collector, one of the despised class of Jews who had sold out to the Roman Empire to collect (and almost always extort) money from his own people. Because of the job and taking advantage of other Jews, tax collectors were seen as traitors and sinners – a bad combination!

I want to look with you at a couple things in this passage. The first is to ask why Levi would drop everything and follow Jesus. The second is to look at what Levi did after he began following Jesus. And finally, I want to look at an application of this passage that you may not have considered before.

Why Give Up a Good Thing?

So, the first question I want to ponder with you is why Matthew would drop everything to follow Jesus. You may think, well, if being a tax collector was so bad – being a traitor and sinner and all – who wouldn’t want to give that up? I don’t want to oversimplify, for it’s not like changing professions then is any easier than doing so now, but being a tax collector was a lucrative job. And it got you in good with the people in power. And there’s the question of getting out. Even if you were a tax collector who somehow got a conscience and wanted out – you’d still have to deal with the stigma of being a traitor and sinner. It’s kind of like I imagine it would be to be an ex-con. Once people check out your past, they might not want to hire you, despite having turned over a new leaf. I’m also not sure, but I imagine there might have been some implications with Rome for a Jewish tax collector to just walk away.

All that feeds into my question of motivation: why did Levi follow Jesus? As with last week, this may just be speculation. In the case of the fishermen and Levi, the simple answer may be that the Holy Spirit moved them and they responded, case closed. Yet, we are given details of the surrounding context, so it is at least worth pondering. Often, God’s Spirit does move, but does so in and with human means. God doesn’t usually speak from a burning bush, but more often speaks through a friend’s wise counsel or through the words of Scripture. So, let’s at least look at the surrounding context.

That’s why I backed up before the section heading in our Bibles. What happened prior to this scene, in every Gospel account, is the healing of the paralytic. It’s the story of the man whose friends lowered him through the roof in order for Jesus to heal him. And Jesus did. And in each gospel, the verse before the calling of Levi/Matthew is this: Jesus tells a paralyzed man to get up and walk and then (v. 26) “they were all struck with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, ‘We have seen remarkable things today.’”

At the least, I think the story had gotten around and reached Levi’s ears. The two stories are consecutive, because v. 27 begins, “After that Jesus went out…” Jesus was not just a random stranger wandering by who said, “Follow me.” He was the miracle worker, drawing crowds, and speaking of God’s forgiveness and displaying God’s power. And here’s what may be me over-speculating. Could it be that Matthew felt paralyzed in his job, stuck between the hatred of his people, good money, and the thumb of his Roman “boss?” Could the story of new life after paralysis have moved him in a special way, giving him courage to walk away? Maybe – it’s not necessary to the story, but it’s interesting to ponder. Or maybe it was simply the authority or winsomeness in Jesus’ voice. Or maybe God’s Spirit whispering to his spirit. Or maybe all of the above.

What we know is that a man hated in his community, with a lucrative job, working for Rome, left everything behind and got up and began to follow Jesus. (v. 28)

Mini-app #1: What does Jesus’ invitation, “Follow me” mean in your life and context? What would he have you walk away from and what would he have you walk toward?

What Was He Thinking?

What did Levi do next? What came after “follow me?” He threw a party – a “big reception for Jesus in his house” (v. 29).

And who came? There was a “great crowd of tax collectors and others” (v. 29). It’s hard to tell whether some of the Pharisees were also present to comment or if their grumbling was hearsay outside or after the fact, but what’s clear is that they were not pleased with the sort of people with whom Jesus was socializing.

Now at this point typically one of two points is made from this passage. And by typically, I include my own interpretation. We either focus on Jesus or we focus on the Pharisees, and the crowd is the message. And rightly so. We get to the end of this passage and find the Pharisees grumbling in judgment over the perceived compromise of associating with “sinners.” And we read Jesus’ response to them that he did not come for anyone who was “righteous” but indeed for sinners. Indeed, that is the main point from this passage, and one I’ve made before. Jesus did not come to hole up with church folks, but to be the Light of the World that shines in darkness. He came to seek out the lost and lonely and hurt and broken and sinful. And if we are really insightful, we realize that the Pharisees, in their judgment, were actually among the sinners, but they were (mostly) deaf to his words. And if we are really, really insightful, we realize that we inside the church are neither perfect nor righteous apart from Jesus, and are among the sinners for whom Jesus came.

All that is what is most important in this passage. And recognizing all that is necessary to see the point I want to focus on with you this morning, and that is Levi’s part in this story. It’s his call and his response to Jesus’ “follow me” that I want to focus on with you.

We usually jump right on past Levi and the seeming simplicity of “Jesus called and he went” and get to the relatively juicy part about the houseful of sinners and the indignant judgment of the Pharisees. But having been there, let me rewind and slow down and revisit Levi.

Levi was sitting in his tax booth – at work, not unlike the fisherman from last week. And Jesus “noticed” him. And as he did with the fishermen, Jesus said, “Follow me.” We’ve noted what had happened in town – the healing of a paralyzed man. We’ve pondered what may have prompted Levi to get up and go. Verse 28 tells us that Levi “left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him.” Presumably that meant his tax booth and his job and his past. In my mind, I pictured that as an instant vow of poverty and getting in single-file line behind Jesus with nothing but the clothes on his back.

And I believe Levi did leave his booth and job behind. But look at the implications of the next scene. He doesn’t walk away from friends and home; he invites Jesus to his house and throws him a party with all of his tax collector colleagues. Following Jesus doesn’t mean shutting yourself off from the world or your friends or neighbors. But it reframes them. Levi wanted to introduce his colleagues to Jesus, and perhaps to tell about the significant change in his own life and perhaps explain why he was leaving the tax business.

Said another way, and I’d want to offer some qualifications on this, he didn’t leave his world for Jesus, he invited Jesus into his world. Certainly, there were things he had to walk away from. He left the criminal extortion of his job, and in his case that probably meant leaving his job altogether. As seen with another tax collector turned follower, he may have been led like Zaccheus to pay back some of the extreme taxes he had collected. But he also didn’t isolate himself from the world, probably because Jesus didn’t live that way. And so he used his connections and relationships and home to try to introduce others to the one who had so affected his life.

That’s the significant story within the story here. Yes, the big point is recognizing that Jesus came for all people, not just the religious crowd. But we see that the story isn’t just about Jesus, but about those who would follow him.

What Kind of Church?

And that’s the point of application for us. I trust that you have been and continue to come to grips with Jesus’ claim that he came to “seek and save the lost.” Where I want to press today is to ask, “How can we follow Him in that?” How can we follow in his steps in the way that Levi did? And to be very, very specific, I’d ask, “What would it look like to throw a Levi party?”

I’m not talking about welcoming people to church who look or talk a little different. We MUST do that and I believe God is growing us in that area.

I’m not talking about venturing out into our neighborhood and meeting our neighbors where they are and loving them in Jesus’ name. We MUST do that as the very essence of the Gospel and I believe God is growing us in that area as well.

I’m wondering if there are any of you who saw yourself in the story today, who heard about Jesus healing a paralyzed man, literally and perhaps figuratively with Levi, and you thought, “I once was paralyzed and God has set me free!”

I’m wondering if there are any of you who have heard Jesus say, “Follow me!” or are hearing that call even now, and you understand what it meant for Levi to leave everything behind and begin to follow Jesus.

I’m wondering specifically if there is anyone who might just walk alongside Levi in following Jesus and consider inviting some of your colleagues, neighbors, peers, or friends over to your house to share stories with them and perhaps even tell them in a gentle, winsome, and humble way about what is most important in your own life.

Is God stirring anybody in that way? Would you consider it?

What kind of church would that be?!



Billy Howell e-mailed me Sunday afternoon to tell me that he had written a song in response to the sermon.  With his permission, I'd like to share it here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fishers of Men (Matthew 4.12-22)

July 11, 201
Sermon by: Robert Austell
(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today we are starting a series that will take us through the summer. I was pondering those famous words of Jesus, “Follow me!” and I thought I’d look up all the places he said those words. It turns out there are eight or nine significant passages, not counting the parallels in the Gospels. And, as it turns out, Jesus usually had some other things to say in and around his message of “follow me.” So, under the broad category of discipleship or being Jesus-followers, I want to look at one of these each week through the rest of the summer. I think you’ll be surprised at the breadth of Jesus’ invitation to people and to you and me.

Today we are looking at the first one of these invitations, issued to the fishermen in Matthew 4. I’d like to look briefly with you at the context and key themes of this passage, then at the specific interaction between Jesus and the first disciples. I believe this study holds some important instruction and challenge for us who desire to be followers of Jesus today.

What Was Spoken

In verses 12-16, Matthew provides the back-story for us. We read that after John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. That geographical note is significant for two reasons. The first reason, given by Matthew, is that in doing so Jesus fulfilled prophecy. Isaiah had spoken a prophecy about the Messiah, singling out that very region by the sea as the place where the great Light of the Messiah would shine in the darkness.

Isaiah wrote, “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a Light dawned.” I was struck immediately by these words as a kind of prophetic bridge between Old and New Testaments. The phrase “land and shadow of death” – does it not bring to mind the familiar words of Psalm 23:4 – “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil?” God’s promise of old is not to abandon us to the shadows and death, but to remain with us. The story I shared with you about God’s “angel” at the Assembly was a tangible reminder that God is never held hostage to the shadows. And Isaiah’s words, “…upon them a Light dawned” echoes in John 1, when Jesus is described as the Light of the World, whom the darkness cannot overcome.

This, THIS, is the one of whom Matthew writes. And, as John would later write, this is the Light and the Messiah who “moved into the neighborhood.” That’s the second significance of Matthew’s geographical note. I don’t know about you, but I always pictured Jesus as being constantly on the move. But here we read that he “settled in Capernaum” – he settled! He made his home there for some time. The Light of the World moved into the neighborhood to witness to the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the Neighborhood

So, having settled in Capernaum, Jesus began teaching and preaching. Matthew gives us the gist of his messages in verse 17. Jesus preached this: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” My focus this morning is not on that message, but let me take a moment to speak to it in some more detail. Repentance means change of mind and heart. Set in the spiritual context, particularly with the note about the arrival of God’s Kingdom, it means changing from a mind and heart set away from God’s Kingdom to a mind and heart turned toward God and His Kingdom. It describes a focus on and love for Kingdom matters. Elsewhere Jesus will describe these matters in more detail as love of God, love of neighbor, humility, obedience, and more. But this is his starting point: “Turn around, people; God is here!”

What I do want to focus on is the contextual ministry of Jesus. I noted the significance of Jesus “settling” somewhere for a time. Notice that he didn’t just park himself in the religious center of Capernaum for several months, but he went to the heart of the town. Talk about “seeking the city” from Jeremiah! Jesus moved to and settled in a sea-front town, and he went to do ministry among those who worked on the sea. This is what I want to hold up to you. Jesus was doing contextual ministry – he brought the Light to the darkness in His neighborhood!

So we read of the calling of the first disciples in verse 18. It begins, “Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee…” Wonder how many times he did that? Was it a daily walk? Did he pray for the fishermen he saw there? We don’t get all those details, but we do now that he was out and about that day. He went to where the fishermen were and he spoke to two of them – Peter and Andrew – and spoke to them in terms they could understand: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Did they totally understand at that moment? I doubt it. Were they intrigued? I’m sure they were. Had they seen him before – perhaps walking and praying by their stretch of water? We don’t know, but I’d like to think that he wasn’t a complete stranger to them. Or maybe he was and God’s Spirit was at work. At any rate, they didn’t delay, they didn’t discuss it first, they didn’t ask their friends. Verse 20 says “immediately they left their nets and followed him.” And moments later it happened again with two more fishermen, James and John. They also followed immediately (v. 22), leaving their father, Zebedee in the boat mending the nets.

Jesus moved to Capernaum, a sea town. He settled there and went where the people were. He spoke to them with images and language they could understand, even if it stretched them beyond the things of earth and into the realm of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Settling In the Shadowland

This is not just one story of something Jesus did and I’m not asking “What would Jesus do?” Jesus, son of the Heavenly Father, was living out and embodying God’s ancient promise and posture towards His creation – coming down from Heaven to Earth, to make His home WITH US and AMONG US, to speak truth and light and life that we might live. In the words of Psalm 23, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us! We need not fear.

Those are the words of hope that we are to carry and embody out in the shadow lands around us. We are not keepers of the light huddled inside walls of presumed safety, hoarding this Good News treasure for ourselves. We are, in Jesus’ words, a city on a hill, a beacon of light in the shadow lands around us. And we, in His name, are the light of the world, sent out in and among our neighbors to speak and embody the Good News of Christ.

Jesus goes before us into this neighborhood. God may yet have “bigger things” for us, but we start with what He has entrusted to us as the body of Christ in this place. There are some 10,000 people within a mile of this church. Do we yet know their needs? Have we ventured into the shadow lands? Do we know their language to speak words of hope and truth and light and life?

Jesus speaks the invitation to discipleship to us just as surely as he spoke it to Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Will you drop what you are doing immediately to follow him? That’s the invitation; that’s the challenge and the mission and the work of God for us. Come, follow Jesus; and he will teach us to fish. Amen.


Monday, July 12, 2010

You Da Man (2 Samuel 12.1-10)

July 4, 2010
Sermon by: Mike Slade

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Lord, let me be diminished so that You might be magnified in the words I say. And let the words I say only be those that You would have me speak. Otherwise, let them fall silent to the ground. Now, give us ears to hear and hearts to respond to Your Word. Amen.

In today’s society, and particularly being a man in today’s society, it has become reassuring and uplifting and provides a sense of accomplishment and achievement when a colleague or friend says to me “You are the man.” Or, as it has become more popular to say: “You ‘da man!” I apologize to the females in the congregation, but this is not entirely exclusive to men. It’s somewhat analogous to saying “You go girl!” It carries the message that you have done something extremely well, that you have achieved some outstanding level of capability or competence. It can even mean that someone is idolized within a community, a nation or possibly the world.

You are the man. The person saying it is giving a compliment of the highest order and the person receiving it is only meant to feel esteemed and highly regarded. What a contrast with how Nathan confronted and rebuked David in Second Samuel.

First, I want to look this morning at this scene from Second Samuel and how God intervened to bring together David and Nathan at this particular point in time. Second, I want to talk a little about how so many times I am convicted of being “the man” in God’s eyes and according to His Word. And third, I want to look at how God has provided through Jesus the forgiveness and ultimate sacrifice for our human-ness and for our sin.

Let’s start with a little background on David: David was the son of Jesse. He was the slayer of Goliath the mighty warrior. The father of Solomon. Was King of Israel for 40 years. And he committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. David was in a position to control the fate and the very life of Uriah and he took advantage of that, sending word that Uriah should be sent to the front lines of the battle and even abandoned so it would be certain that he would be killed. David would then cover his tracks and make sure that no one knew what he had done and he would be in the clear. After all, he was the King. Who would challenge him?

Then along comes Nathan. Now Nathan was a prophet who served both David and Solomon. He was an Israelite and he was the one who first spoke to David regarding the building of the original temple. Later, Nathan was the one who revealed Adonijah’s plot to take over the throne from David. He was, in a way, part of the family.

So we come to this point in time in which David has committed adultery and murder to get what he wanted and the Lord sends Nathan, a trusted servant and a prophet, to David with the sole purpose of pointing out his sin and exposing him by way of this story about two men. One of the men in the story told by Nathan is wealthy the other is not. One has many sheep and cattle; the other has only a ewe lamb, a female lamb. And the lamb is like a daughter to the poor man. It even eats and sleeps with his family. And when a traveler comes to town to visit the rich man, the rich man does not take from his own cattle or sheep to prepare a meal, but he takes the lamb from the poor man, it is killed and it is prepared as a meal for the traveler. And David hears this story that Nathan tells him and he is incensed, he is greatly angered. The Word states that “David's anger was greatly kindled against the rich man,” even saying that he should die. It was that heinous a crime. Even worse, David says, the man showed no pity. The rich man’s heart was hard toward the poor man and he simply took what he wanted because he was in a position to do so.

And in this moment of David’s anger and self-righteousness, Nathan twists the story. He turns it around and says, “That rich man is not made up. That man is you. You are the man. You did this and God knows you did it and He has sent me to expose the truth.”

As humans, we like to order things. And as humans, we tend to think in degrees of sin. So we do things like take the Ten Commandments and rank them in order from what we believe are the least offensive to the most offensive. That allows us to look at other people and situations and say “at least I’m not as bad as him or her because I haven’t done that.” I believe that on our self-created but flawed scale of sin, David’s would rank as especially bad. But sin is sin in God’s eyes, lest we comment on the speck in someone else’s eye and we ignore the log in our own.

“You are the man.” God convicts me of that so often through His Word and – even more often – through others He puts in my path, just as He put Nathan in David’s path. He convicts me when I read of Adam and Eve in the Garden and of Eve eating the fruit from the forbidden tree and of Adam watching Eve, not saying a word, later blaming her and hiding in his own shame. I am convicted when God reminds me of the woman caught in adultery and of the men angrily holding stones until they are reminded of their own sin. What stones am I still holding? What stones are you still holding? I am convicted by Peter’s denial of Jesus. I am convicted by Thomas’s doubt. I am convicted by those who called for Jesus to be crucified, the same people who hailed his arrival just a week before. By Jonah not listening to God’s calling. You get the point. I have fallen far short of the glory of God. So did David. Yet God chose to use David in a powerful way.

God is doing the same with me and He is doing the same with each of you. I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version of my testimony - This will cover about 40 years in half a dozen or so phrases: went to church as a child, stopped going as a teenager, returned ever so briefly as a college student, drifted exceedingly far from anything remotely related to church after that, prayed a prayer one evening to a God I did not yet know, wandered a bit more, then finally I rushed headlong to Him, singing His praises and really being filled with His presence and with the Holy Spirit. But I can turn away from that and I can turn away from God and I can turn away from music and I can turn away from family and from you. I know I can because I’ve seen me do it.

Many of you know me as this person who seems relatively involved and engaged in what is going on here at Good Shepherd. And the misperception that potentially comes with that is that I have it all together and that I am somehow a better or stronger Christian; that I have moved past the mundane challenges of faith and belief and sin that each of you faces. I can assure you that leading the congregation in worship or singing in the choir or being an elder in the church – for me – is not an experience in which I am lifted up or exalted. It is – or it should be – an experience in which and by which I am truly humbled. And if I am lifting myself up and putting myself at the center, then I am way off-base.

I am certain that many of you set mental goals out there to do “this” and to be “that” and have “such and such” done by “so and so” date. I do the same thing. For me, though, it is so often the human part that takes over and leaves the spiritual part behind. Let me explain what I mean: several years ago, the Worship Team here at Good Shepherd really took off. A number of us attended a conference – sort of a lay renewal for Worship Teams – and we were pretty pumped up about what God was doing at Good Shepherd and how He wanted us to respond. Several folks here were part of that and I was thrilled to be a part of it as well. But doesn’t it seem like sometimes when God holds out His promise for us – his vision for us… that when we follow it faithfully and do all the things He seemingly wants us to do, we sometimes come to a point at which there is a crossroads of sorts in the road. And one path is God’s path and the other path, or potentially several other twisted and confusing and wide and even circular paths are of our own making and we sort of turn to God and say “Hey, thanks. I really appreciate you getting me this far but I’m good from here on out.” Ever done that? I’ve done that. And that’s what I did. Because of my deep involvement in church activities and because I was an Elder and because my family was doing really well, I felt as though I had spent my time in the faithfulness box and that I could move on. I had graduated with my Master’s degree in “God things.” I could move on to other things and I didn’t need to check with God to do that. So I was smarter than Him and I could do my own thing. I was in charge of what I needed and wanted and I was the focus. But the walls started to close in and I battled the unseen demons and I fought depression and I shut down to my family. Work became the thing to sustain me so I tried to give myself meaning through my profession. But even that became a battle and I began to detest the very thing that I thought would at least help fill me up.

I had fully turned from God. I was blind to what He would have me see and I was deaf to what He would have me hear. I am the man.

I believe there is 1 of 2 potential traps into which I can fall or into which we can fall when we think about sin and grace. The first trap is saying “I can do whatever I want right up until it’s my time to pass away from this earth and as long as I call out to God at that moment I will be saved.” You might refer to it as “just-in-time Christianity.”

Here’s a couple of thoughts on that: First, Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that just as sin came through the actions of one, so did grace and life come to us through the actions of THE One. In a battle of sin versus grace, grace will always win. But Paul writes on and tells us “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Further still, God’s Word tells us that we don’t know the day or time when our time might come. None of us is promised another day or hour or minute. So holding out for a “just in time” salvation is mighty risky.

The second trap into which we can fall is believing that God will come to the point at which he simply gives up on us. A belief that we have used up all of our chances. But He is the God of second chances. And of third chances. And of fourth chances.

So somewhere between the first trap of constantly sinning and believing we can save ourselves just in time, and the second trap of believing that we are beyond saving so what’s the use in running hard to God… between those two is faith.

God showed his eternal faithfulness through me. When I turned back to God, he wasn’t some mirage far off in the distance. I didn’t have to shout to Him so He could hear. He was right there on my heels. Let me tell you a little about the mercy and grace and love of the Father for me after I had turned away fully from him.

God gave me a love for music and he put me in a church home that has a love for music as well. He lovingly brought me back into the choir and into the worship team when he could have taken that from me forever. He gave me a loving family and a wonderful home. He put on my heart the idea to have people both within Good Shepherd and outside of this congregation write their own faith stories so those could be compiled into a book. He set people and events in motion when I was seeking a new opportunity at work that would keep me from having to do extensive travel so I could be close to my family and so I could be close to my Mom when she was sick. He afforded me the opportunity to spend time with them and with her as I was transitioning to my new job. When my Mom passed away, he put you people and this congregation, this church family, in the midst of all that to lift up my entire family – not because you just felt obliged to do it and not because you were looking for something in return, but because you were being Jesus for us. You were doing what Christ would do. Even though I was just like the lost sheep and the lost coin and the lost son, even though not that long ago I had fully turned away from God… He was the woman gathering all her friends to tell them that she had found the coin that had been lost. He was the shepherd celebrating the lost sheep that had been found. He was the father running to meet his son who was returning home after squandering his inheritance. He did all that and exceedingly more for me even though I am the man. Several months ago, he even put in my heart and on my mind the words to the song that you heard Maddie sing earlier, but he did not give me the music. At about the same time, he was putting in Maddie’s heart and on her mind the music to a song for which she could not find the words.

At my human core, I am selfish and ill-mannered and boastful and proud. I am the man. But at the center of what God has been doing for me and through me is grace and mercy and patience and love. At the center is Jesus. God put Jesus at the center so that sin and death would be overtaken and would be overcome. He put Jesus at the center so Paul would be saved. So Peter would be saved. So David would be saved. So you and I would be saved. God sent love down from heaven so that no matter the person or the situation or the brokenness or the shame or the sin, love and mercy and grace prevail through Jesus Christ our Lord. That is the Good News. Amen.